Predictions 101 — Week 8

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We had an intriguing mixed bag last week, going 4-3 straight and 4-2-1 versus “the number.”

P101 desperately needs to stop backing Mack Brown in the Red River Shootout. But we nearly pegged “USC” at LSU on the dot. And it’s too bad we didn’t sub our Oregon State over BYU winner in for what seems to be a weekly miss with the Upset Special.

Oh well, on to this week’s selections.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Oct. 18, thru Sat., Oct. 20)

1) No. 9 South Carolina at No. 3 Florida
Sat., Oct. 20 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

We love this sort of old school showdown. Run the ball. Play defense. Games that are decided in the trenches warm our hearts.

The Gator ground game pounded out 326 rushing yards at Vanderbilt last week with quarterback Jeff Driskel accounting for 177 of them. Florida, of course, won’t enjoy that kind of freedom against South Carolina’s defense.

The Gamecocks rank fifth in the country in scoring defense (12.29 points allowed per game) and 12th in total defense (296.29 yards).

Florida has a wicked stop unit of its own that’s statistically a mirror image of South Carolina, ranking just one step below in each category — sixth in scoring (12.33) and 13th in total defense (297.17).

If the Gamecocks are going to win this one on the road and claim their first three-game winning streak over the Gators, they’ll have to start quickly.

Florida has been particularly dominant in second halves this season, outscoring foes, 98-23. Furthermore, the Gators have allowed just one touchdown and a field goal in the fourth quarter this year.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at the stats, but the Florida offensive line was banged up last week. Three starters are expected to return to the lineup for South Carolina’s visit. Having all hands on deck will be a great benefit to Gator offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who lines up with seven offensive linemen at times.

That sort of variety and show of strength will serve Florida well in its attempt to neutralize South Carolina’s elite front seven, which is based on quickness and anchored by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

In these types of games, field position on the gridiron makes all the difference. That leads us to punting, yes punting. The Gators rank fourth in the nation in net punting. The Gamecocks are 104th.

Opening point spread: Florida by 3 1/2

The pick: Florida 23-17

2) No. 4 Kansas State at No. 17 West Virginia
Sat., Oct. 20 — 7 p.m. ET, FOX

This is a tough one to call. If fists were able to be thrown during a conference call, they would have been flying between P101 pugilists/predictors.

As always, it doesn’t really matter what we argue about. In this case, it depends on which Mountaineer team shows up. Since the game is being contested in Morgantown, we’d be very surprised if Dana Holgorsen’s crew laid an egg that resembled last Saturday’s 49-14 loss at Texas Tech.

But at the same time, the two metrics we trust the most – running the football with a physical mindset and playing tough brand of disruptive defense – do not favor West Virginia in this matchup.

Wildcat quarterback Collin Klein is a warrior and a winner. In concert with running back John Hubert, the dual-threat triggerman directs a vicious option attack.

Although the Mountaineer defense ranks 109th in scoring defense (37.3 points allowed per game) and 114th in total defense (496 yards), it has the ability to load up against the run, but Klein can hurt you with his arm, even though he won’t ever look pretty doing it.

Of course, West Virginia’s game is much more about outscoring you than stopping you. That’s all fine and dandy, until you get exposed.

The Mountaineers will have to figure out how to solve the kind of defense that Texas Tech successfully threw at them – a variety of zone coverages behind a three or four-man rush – for the rest of the season. Those non-blitz rushes were able to disrupt Geno Smith’s rhythm and the disciplined coverage schemes limited the all-important yards-after-catch.

If Mountaineer wideouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey can’t wiggle through enough seams within the semi-slow Wildcat secondary, Kansas State could be on it way. Bill Snynder’s only two remaining road games are at TCU and Baylor.

Opening point spread: West Virginia by 4 1/2

The pick: Kansas State 37-35

3) No. 6 LSU at No. 20 Texas A&M
Sat., Oct. 20 — Noon ET, ESPN

After opening the season with a 20-17 loss to Florida, the Aggies have reeled off five consecutive wins, scoring at least 48 points in four of those victories.

The dynamic offense triggered by ultra-athletic quarterback Johnny Manziel has been nothing but impressive. Kudos to Kevin Sumlin to getting the A&M attack ramped up so quickly.

It’s on the other side of the football that the Aggies have their concerns. Last Saturday, they surrendered 615 yards of total offense in a 59-57 close shave at Louisiana Tech.

With the LSU offense sputtering, especially in the red zone, this trip to Kyle Field might be just the right tonic for Les Miles and his struggling quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Opening point spread: LSU by 3

The pick: LSU 28-23

4) No. 18 Texas Tech at TCU
Sat., Oct. 20 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

Fresh off their impressive 49-14 destruction of then-No. 5 West Virginia, the Red Raiders should be on red alert.

Last October, they had a similar experience, beating then-No. 3 Oklahoma to snap the Sooners’ 39-game home winning streak. The problem was that they followed up with a 41-7 loss at home to Iowa State, which was the first of five consecutive defeats that sank a 5-7 season.

Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege, who out Geno Smithed Geno Smith in the win over the cocky Mountaineers (32-of-42 for 499 yards and six touchdowns), will have his hands full with TCU in Fort Worth.

The Horned Frog defense leads the country with 14 interceptions and ranks within the top three in the Big 12 in total defense, pass defense and passing efficiency defense. That’s fairly impressive for a unit that had to replace more than half of its starters from last year. However, guess who tops the conference rankings in all three of those categories?

Yup, the Red Raiders, who yield only 143.7 yards through the air per game (fourth in the nation). New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman shouldn’t have to buy any meals in Lubbock.

Opening point spread: TCU by 3 1/2

The pick: Texas Tech 30-23

5) No. 2 Oregon at Arizona State
Thur., Oct. 18 — 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

The Sun Devil defense ranks within the nation’s top 10 in almost every defensive category, but those stats lie. The FBS teams that Arizona State has faced currently rank 114th, 111th, 105th, 103rd and 56th in total offense. Weakling California is that lone non-triple-digit winner of that lowly crew that’s a combined 11-22.

The Ducks, on the other hand, rank eighth in total offense, fourth in rushing and second in scoring.

That being said, everyone talks about Oregon’s high-powered offense. However, the catalyst for this year’s team is the return of the “Gang Green” defense, which has come up with four pick-six scores in the last three games.

ASU isn’t without weapons and does feature the most efficient quarterback in the Pac-12 (third nationally). Sophomore Taylor Kelly has been magnificent, but remains largely untested. Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and USC will take care of that in the next four weeks.

Put a fork in the Sun Devils. They’re done. With the ridiculous speed Oregon has on both sides of the ball, ASU will be happy to know that it isn’t scheduled to play the Ducks next season.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 12

The pick: Oregon 48-24

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

No. 21 Cincinnati at Toledo
Sat., Oct. 20 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN3

Once again, the USOTW prediction comes courtesy of Marc Doche (@MDoche) from the P101 satellite office in Burbank, Calif.

Having disposed of the not-so-vaunted gauntlet of three directional schools from Michigan (Western, Central and Eastern), scoring 139 points in the process, Toledo is geared up for its biggest game of the season.

After beginning his first season at the helm of the Rockets with an overtime loss at Arizona, head coach Matt Campbell has won six straight, propelled by a juggernaut offense featuring a trio of junior playmakers – quarterback Terrance Owens, running back David Fluellen and wideout Bernard Reedy.

They’re well suited to attack a Bearcat defense that allows more than 250 passing yards per game. But the Toledo attack can’t abandon the run if it hopes to keep its banged-up defense off the field. Decimated by injuries along the defensive line, the Rockets will be tested by Cincinnati’s offensive firepower that has scored 101 points in the past two weeks.

With a full slate of Big East action on the horizon, the Bearcats, who are playing their first true road game of the season, won’t be nearly as amped as their MAC hosts, who boast a 4-1 record at the Glass Bowl against ranked opponents.

Opening point spread: Cincinnati by 5

The pick: Toledo 35-32

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 12 Florida State at Miami
Sat., Oct. 20 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

This rivalry used to be at the top of the pile. Now, not so much.

Michigan State at Michigan or Stanford at California could have worked its way into this spot, but the Brent & Herbie factor was used as the three-way tiebreaker.

Oddly enough, the Hurricanes haven’t won a home game versus the Seminoles since 2004, and they added the pressure of “homecoming” to this game.

The handicapping here is simple really. Since Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher arrived in Tallahassee in 2007, as offensive coordinator, the Seminoles are 20-1 when they rush for 200 or more yards.

Count on that happening. Only two teams in the country (Tulane [1-5] and Eastern Michigan [0-6]) are worse at defending the run than the Hurricanes, who surrender 253.7 yards per game on the ground.

Bettors ought to beware, however. Only one of the last 10 meetings in this series has been decided by more than eight points.

Opening point spread: Florida by 17 1/2

The pick: Florida State 34-20

Florida’s statement on Jim McElwain’s death-threat claim is interesting, to say the least

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Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it’s something.  Regardless, it’s something that bears watching.

Losers of two in a row and off to a 3-3 start to the season,  Florida has underperformed and underwhelmed to say the least.  So much so, in fact, that head coach Jim McElwain indicated Monday that he, his family, his coaching staff and players have been subjected to death threats by unknown individuals.

The head coach went into no detail publicly regarding the nature of the threats.  Apparently, it was the same privately when discussing the situation with his employer.

OK then.

Again, it could be in the same neighborhood as naked shark humping — nothing. Bears watching, though, as one very outspoken member of the Florida media is very much already doing publicly about a situation that was apparently reported to the media before it was reported to the police or even the university.

LOOK: Arizona State to wear Pat Tillman-themed uniforms

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Pat Tillman is essentially the Knute Rockne of Arizona State football, the central figure that will be as important to the program 100 years from now as he is today. And while Notre Dame will wear Rockne-themed uniforms later this season, so, too, will Arizona State.

The program revealed Tillman-centric uniforms on Monday for their Nov. 4 game with Colorado, based on the uniform Tillman wore as a member of the U.S. Army while fighting in Afghanistan.

Tillman played linebacker at Arizona State from 1994-97 (he was named the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior) and then spent four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before the events of 9/11 inspired him to join the U.S. Army. He was a member of the Army Rangers before he was killed in action in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, at age 27.

Arizona State unveiled a Tillman statue at Sun Devil Stadium at its season-opening win over New Mexico State.

“Pat spent his whole life trying to be the best person he could possibly be,” Kevin Tillman, Pat’s brother, said at the unveiling. “He didn’t focus on money, he didn’t focus on fame, he didn’t focus on a pretty statue. It was, ‘How can I make myself a better person in all these different facets of my life?’ And ASU gave him an opportunity to do that.”

Jim McElwain says family, players have received death threats over 3-3 start

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Florida has lost two in a row and is off to a 3-3 start, and that streak will probably reach three on Saturday after the Gators meet No. 3 Georgia. While everyone knows SEC fans are passionate about their football, some have taken Florida’s struggles too far.

How far? By threatening to kill the players and coaches.

“I think it’s a pretty good lesson for the way things are,” head coach Jim McElwain said, via Only Gators. “There’s a lot of hate in this world and a lot of anger. And yet, it’s freedom to show it. The hard part is, obviously, when it’s threats against your own players, death threats to your families, the ill will that’s brought upon out there. And yet, I think it’s really one of those deals that really is a pretty good testament to what’s going on out there nationally. There’s a lot of angry people, and in this business, we’re the ones you take the shots at. And that’s the way it is.”

In my experience, it seems people lodging death threats are far more serious about the threat part than the, uh, other. But that’s easy for me to say, I’ve never received one.

Report: Sam Darnold expected to return to USC in 2018

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Sam Darnold was appointed the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft on the second day of 2017. As a redshirt freshman, Darnold torched Penn State to the tune of 33-of-53 passing for 453 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in a 52-49 Rose Bowl win.

One problem, though. Darnold hasn’t played like a No. 1 pick this season.

While he hasn’t been the most disappointing player on what’s turning out to be a disappointing USC team, Darnold has posted pedestrian numbers (for him): hitting 63.5 percent of his passes for an even eight yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He ranks 38th nationally in passing efficiency. This puts him, coincidentally, one spot ahead of former USC quarterback Max Browne.

On Monday, NFL Draft analyst Benjamin Allbright shared a report that Darnold is expected to return to USC next season.

Considering Ronald Jones could return next season and that Stephen Carr is just a freshman, the prospect of Darnold returning in 2018 has to take the sting out of a lost 2017 for Trojans fans.